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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Tales from the Crypt presents: Demon Knight, or: Un-Brayk My Heart

It’s the best month on the blog, even if Horror Month is somewhat less of an escape while we’re in the midst of a global pandemic (being especially mishandled by the leadership in my country, the good ol’ “freedom isn’t free” USA). As this week’s film shows, things could always be worse…though I’ve seen demons with more compassion than some of our current world leaders.

The Film:

Tales from the Crypt presents:  Demon Knight

The Premise:

The fight for the key that holds humanity’s only hope for survival comes to smalltown New Mexico when a loner arrives, pursued by demon.

The Ramble:

Rather unnecessarily, the Crypt Keeper is a Hollywood director, which isn’t so much commentary as an opportunity for horrendously cringey puns on actors’ names. I suppose the Crypt Keeper is a necessary part of the film since this is a tale from the crypt…but I could have happily skipped these scenes without missing any of the film’s essence.

A skeleton wearing a director's costume faces the camera from a film set.

Once we dive into the main story line, we’re dropped into the middle of a dramatic high-speed chase. Protagonist Brayker is SOL when he runs out of fuel completely and cowboy-hatted Billy Zane still has his foot firmly on the gas pedal. As an audience with zero context for what’s happening, we’re initially supposed to be conflicted about who the good guy really is here…but we’ve all seen Titanic, right? Billy Zane’s character is known later only as the Collector–ooooh, ominous!

A man in a cowboy hat raises his hands as if in surrender, the police officer behind him looking skeptical.

After the two cars collide in a fiery explosion, there can be no survivors. Thus conclude the local police officers investigating the accident. However, to dramatically prove them wrong (and to keep the film going for another 80 minutes), an unscathed Collector emerges from the wreckage, demanding to know where the man he was following has gone.

As it turns out, Brayker has left a fairly easy trail to follow after attempting to steal a car parked outside of a café. At the suggestion of a man everyone in town calls Uncle Willy, Brayker winds up staying the night at a motel called the Mission, formerly a church.

A man wearing a leather jacket sits at a dingy table, an empty bowl in front of him.

Especially for a horror film, there are a LOT of characters whose names we’re supposed to remember from here on out (in addition to Uncle Willy). First is Irene, the owner of the motel, and formerly incarcerated employee Jeryline who is decidedly not here for your nonsense. Then we’ve got Cordelia, a sex worker who operates out of the motel, and Wally, a postal worker who is in love with her. Unfortunately, Cordelia has terrible taste in men, opting for the appropriately named Roach.

Before the cops and the Collector have to do too much sleuthing, a suspicious Irene tips them off on Brayker’s location. When they apprehend Brayker, the Collector reveals his interest in finding the man: he’s searching for an ancient key that seems to contain a precious liquid (spoiler alert: it’s the literal blood of Jesus).

However, unlike most horror movie cops, these two are at least somewhat suspicious of an actual demon, demanding that the Collector accompany them to the station rather than handing over the key. This is really not part of the plan, and one of the cops soon meets a grisly end as the Collector escapes. Condemning the property, the Collector brings forth demons to destroy those remaining in the motel.

After some setbacks, Brayker manages to keep demons out of the motel using the blood of Christ at all entrances to the building. However, this strategy will only work if no one enters or leaves the motel for the rest of the night. Complicating things is the demons’ ability to possess any of the humans with no one the wiser…until it’s too late.

A woman looks in horror at something offscreen as a man stands behind her, smiling.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Collector spends most of the film sending demons after the crew in the motel and trying to convince the humans to make a deal with him. He really wants that key as it is the last of 7–the other 6 of which are already in the demons’ possession. Of course, the key/Jesus blood is the only way for humanity to hold off the forces of darkness.

As the night goes on, both the human and demonic body count rises, with Jeryline emerging as an unlikely heroine. But does she have what it takes to preserve the key, save humanity, and keep the demonic forces at bay?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

You know, I didn’t hate this. The humor doesn’t always land well, and the explanation for the importance of the relic feels extremely underdeveloped. But overall, I stayed reasonably entertained through most of the film.

Demons pursuing an ancient object in a creepy old house gave me quite a Hellraiser vibe, and I’m not mad about that. However, this film doesn’t particularly pull off the menacing elements that Pinhead and the Cenobites bring to Hellraiser, opting instead for comedy. There were some times when I did find Billy Zane’s flippant approach to demonhood entertaining; it does seem on brand that a demon would have a good time watching humans inevitably fail. With the shaved head and dark eyes, Billy Zane gives off High Priest Imhotep vibes and seems to have made the entire film an audition tape for his role in Titanic.

Actually, the casting is well done in a way that doesn’t always happen with horror. William Sadler comes across like a budget Patrick Swayze, and it works for me. Perhaps the biggest badasses of the film are CCH Pounder as Irene and Jade Pinkett as Jeryline. My complaint here is that Jada in particular isn’t given much to do until the end, reflecting some of the film’s issues with major reveals. There are quite a few plot elements that are thrown in as dramatic twists, Jeryline’s role as the heir to Brayker’s work included (does that count as a spoiler?). This doesn’t always work particularly well; with Jeryline, it undercuts her importance by giving her less screen time. It’s a damn shame, especially because the scenes towards the end of the film are some of the most suspenseful (and badass).

New horror classic? Maybe not. But it’s just enough fun (and gore) that I have no regrets that we’ve included it on this year’s Horror Month watchlist.

Would my blog wife join this one in hell or banish it with a barrier of Jesus’s blood? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Blacula, or: There He Is Again

Even if many typical Halloween activities have been cancelled or deemed too risky for me personally, it’s October, damnit! The spirit of Halloween lives in our hearts, and that’s at least reflected on the Blog Collab if not in many other parts of my life right now. Since we’ve already crossed off the Snoop Dogg/Pam Grier vehicle Bones, what better way to kick off Horror Month than with another pioneer in Black cinema…Blacula?

The Film:

Blacula

The Premise:

After becoming a vampire nearly 200 years earlier, Prince Mamuwalde awakens in 1970s Los Angeles as Blacula.

The Ramble:

The year is 1780 in Transylvania, and Dracula is meeting with two representatives of the fictional Abani nation: Prince Mamuwalde and his wife, Luva. The two seek Dracula’s support in ending the slave trade, a cause so unsympathetic to the vampire of legend that he laughs off the idea. In fact, Dracula decides that having two visitors to his estate presents an opportunity to feed. Transforming Mamuwalde into a vampire, Dracula seals him in a coffin to thirst for blood for eternity as…Blacula.

A grey-haired white man in period costume looks smug as a Black man and woman stand next to him, looking indignant.

Nearly two centuries later, cringey gay stereotypes Bobby and Billy are interior decorators hoping to cash in on the campiness of antiques from Dracula’s estate. Shrugging off the warnings of the agent, the two men purchase items including a coffin, which happens to contain Mamuwalde’s undead corpse. After the coffin is sent to Los Angeles, Bobby and Billy unknowingly unleash the vampire on the city, becoming his first victims.

A man with an afro smiles, looking at a table of antiques. Two other men stand next to him.

At Bobby’s funeral, Mamuwalde spots a mourner who looks just like his wife, Luva. Impossible, as Luva was locked in the creepy cellar in Dracula’s castle to die…or is it? The modern-day Luva is named Tina, a woman whose sister is dating an LAPD pathologist. Mamuwalde makes a bad first impression when he materializes in a dark alley, sending Tina running for her life. Conveniently, Mamuwalde is able to reconnect by returning Tina’s purse to her and explaining the misunderstanding. Though she is unnerved by Mamuwalde, Tina also feels drawn to him.

In a dark room, a man in a cape smiles at a woman with a short afro.

Meanwhile, the bodies pile up as Mamuwalde simultaneously feeds and covers his tracks. Dr. Thomas, the boyfriend of Tina’s sister Michelle, begins to suspect the mysterious deaths may share something similar. Researching all manner of ghoulish subjects, Thomas and Michelle investigate one of the victim’s graves after the LAPD refuses to exhume the body. There, they discover Billy’s undead corpse, which springs awake to attack them.

After an incredibly unsubtle line of questioning (“Are you into the occult?”), Mamuwalde realizes that Thomas is onto him. Just as it seems Mamuwalde has convinced Tina to join him for eternity, the LAPD interrupt, and the vampire is forced to flee. Upon following one of the vampires, Thomas and others find a den of the creatures, narrowly escaping.

With Mamuwalde on the loose, Thomas and Michelle pressure Tina to help them find and destroy him. Will Tina keep her promise or give in to the allure of Mamuwalde and the vampire lifestyle?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

For such an iconic film, I frequently found myself struggling to stay awake…and not because of any vampiric hypnosis. This is basically a straightforward adaptation of Dracula set in the ’70s with a mostly Black cast. I was hoping for a stronger social commentary, but Mamuwalde doesn’t seem to have any secret social justice agenda, nor do any of the other characters. Even the name Blacula becomes problematic as it’s Dracula’s name for Mamuwalde rather than his own. Is it strange that I wanted a period piece set in the 19th century where Mamuwalde seeks vengeance against Dracula???

The character of Mamuwalde himself is pretty boring, though I suppose at the time it may have been refreshing to see a Black character who wasn’t a complete stereotype. He does, after all, walk around LA proudly wearing a cape. However, Dr. Thomas really takes over as a protagonist, and he’s not particularly interesting either. There’s a reason so many films about vampires focus on Dracula rather than Van Helsing–it’s so much more fun to be the creature than the force attempting to stop it.

Let’s not even get started with the characters of Tina and Michelle, who are glamorous but given virtually nothing to do. Neither has much agency, as Tina is mystically drawn to Mamuwalde, while Michelle revolves around Thomas. There isn’t really a compelling reason for Tina to feel a connection to Mamuwalde except because, you know, vampires. Either way, she doesn’t really get to make her own choices in the story and deserves better than the fate she meets.

And it’s impossible for me not to address the representation of gay characters Bobby and Billy in this film, which ages very poorly. I know most sitcoms today don’t do much better, but it’s still jarring to see these characters played purely for laughs.

Overall, the highlight is the unnecessary number of funk music interludes, which makes me suspect this would have been better as a musical.

Would my blog wife fly into the night with this one or deliver it a stake to the heart? Find out in her review!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Wounds, or: Papa Roach

Usually losing a phone means a bad day for the owner, and quite possibly a new phone. However, on the off chance you’ve found a phone that’s related to demonic possession, the odds are your day isn’t going to be much better–and, in fact, it will probably be much worse. Let’s find out, shall we, in the final film of Horror Month 2019!

The Film:

Wounds

The Premise:

After a patron leaves a phone at a New Orleans bar, bartender Will begins experiencing sinister happenings.

The Ramble:

As the preppiest-looking scruffy bartender in the world, Will (Armie Hammer) works at a dive bar with some rather colorful patrons. Regular at the bar Alicia is throwing back a drink most nights along with boyfriend Jeffrey. Though Will has a live-in girlfriend attending Tulane, he has a much keener interest in Alicia’s comings and goings.

One eventful evening, a cockroach skitters across the bar–in the end, only mildly disgusting compared to what will happen that night. When a fight breaks out between bar fly Eric and a stranger, poor Eric ends up with a broken bottle to the face. Though seriously injured, both patrons clear out of the bar before the cops arrive. Also sent running are a group of underage teens who Will has taken pity on.

a man with a bloody cut on his face drinks from a beer bottle at a bar as another man stands next to him

In their haste, one of the teens leaves a phone behind. When the number receives a series of messages pleading for help from a demonic force, Will responds with annoyance, assuming the teens are playing a prank.

The next day, girlfriend Carrie discovers the phone, which now features some disturbing images and videos of people who seem to have been tortured to death. Already a strained relationship to begin with, the phone creates additional tension between the couple. Carrie suspects Will has something to hide, and Will is extremely jealous of one of Carrie’s professors.

a man and woman hold each other as they lay on the grass outside at night

While Will promises to take the phone to the police, he continues to respond to the messages received. When he finally does head to the station to hand over the evidence, Will has a vision of cockroaches pouring from the phone, tossing it out of the window, and thus destroying any proof he had of sinister happenings. None of this happens before he receives the ominous message that he has been “chosen.”

Frustrated, creeped out, and more than a little lonely, Will convinces Alicia to go out for a night of drinking. Though Will is ready to pursue a physical relationship with Alicia, both are involved with other people, and Alicia pumps the brakes. Will’s night takes a sinister turn when he receives creepy videos from Carrie. When he returns home, Carrie is in a zombie-like trance and has no recollection of anything happening. Carrie does snap out of this pretty quickly except for occasionally muttering about how we’re all just worms.

a woman sits at a small dining room table eating cereal, while a man sitting across the table looks at her

Soon after, Will begins acting more and more like an asshole: losing his temper at the bar, screaming at his boss, giving zero fucks about the poor health of bottle-to-the-face Eric, and breaking up with Carrie. Of course, when Will breaks the news to Alicia, she still wants nothing to do with him; thus, he becomes even more of a douche.

With nowhere to go, Will reunites with the injured Eric. However, instead of a welfare check, Will is fully prepared to be Eric’s new roommate for…reasons?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

“Oh, great,” I imagine Armie Hammer saying to himself upon reading the script, “one of those clever horror films in the vein of The Babadook or Jordan Peele’s films. What a brilliant career move; people love Daniel Kaluuya!”

Imagine Armie’s dismay when he ended up starring in this disappointing film, which is neither particularly clever nor overly horrific (except in all of the bad ways).

For real, I did not get this film. I found the pacing to be quite poor, as I was bored out of my skull for almost the entire run time, then surprised by a rather action-packed ending that just left me confused.

I also think virtually everyone here was miscast, though a terrible script certainly didn’t do anyone favors. Armie Hammer isn’t believable to me as a washed-up underachiever; he looks more like the kind of person who would always have family to bail him out. I could just be prejudiced against conventionally handsome blonde dudes, IDK.

To top this off, this film was set and shot in New Orleans, but there was absolutely no sense of place. I felt the film could have been shot anywhere for all of the swampy, haunted ambience we got–aka none. I thought there may be a connection between the creepy happenings of the film and Hurricane Katrina (that would be a compelling explanation, no?), but the script does not take advantage of this.

The main problem for me is this lack of meaning and direction; there seems to be a demon threatening to take over Will and his life. Is it a manifestation of his loveless romance with Carrie? A symptom of his failure to pursue the life he wanted? A stand-in for a developing addiction to alcohol? In this film in particular, the lack of meaning simply makes Will look like your run of the mill asshole. Are you sure you’re suffering from demonic possession there, buddy, or are you just an incel who thinks the world owes you something as a mediocre white man?

I will give this film credit for an accurate representation of millennials being chased by demonic forces: we will always text a friend instead of calling for help. No one wants to get the cops involved, and absolutely no one wants to talk on the phone to a stranger.

Would my haunting blog wife buy this one a shot or conveniently “lose her phone” when it tries to call? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, or: Lord Help the Mister Who Comes Between Me and My Sister

It is Halloween Month(!), so the time feels right for an adaptation of a classic by master of horror Shirley Jackson. Brilliantly creating an atmosphere of dread, especially in her haunted old mansions, will this film uphold her high standards or will we have to say sorry to Ms. Jackson after this week?

The Film:

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

The Premise:

The sudden arrival of their cousin disrupts the isolated lives of sisters shunned from a small town after a tragic evening several years prior.

The Ramble:

In the 1960s, sisters Merricat and Constance Blackwood live with their uncle Julian in the family estate, where (surprise, surprise) they have always lived. The wealthiest family in the area, whose mansion stands subtly looking down on the entire town, the Blackwoods’ popularity reached an all-time low six years ago when several family members were poisoned.

2 young women sit across from a middle-aged man in an elaborate dining room

Though Uncle Julian survived, he was confined to a wheelchair following the poisonings and became disconnected from reality through his obsession with the events that happened that evening. While Constance was accused but acquitted of murder, the townspeople remain deeply suspicious of the Blackwoods, contributing to her terror of leaving the estate. Merricat is the only member of the family who ventures into town, collecting library books and groceries for the remaining Blackwoods. When she goes out, Merricat is followed by wary glances and nasty children’s rhymes about the night of the murders.

a young woman walks down a neighborhood street, hands full with a brown bag and books

Though isolated, Merricat is content with Constance for her best and only friend. She reveals how far she will take things to keep the band together when she breaks up Constance and her fireman boyfriend. With an ever-increasing feeling that a big change is coming, Merricat performs protective rituals including burying objects belonging to her late father.

When cousin Charles arrives unannounced, it appears Merricat’s predictions of a change on the horizon have come to fruition. Though Constance and Julian welcome the opportunity to speak with a non-Merricat family member, Merricat remains apprehensive. (Plus the cat is getting bad vibes from Charles here; never a good sign.)

After Charles discovers Merricat’s penchant for burying valuables belonging to her father, he becomes upset with the wasteful practice. When Merricat directly asks Charles to leave, he refuses–and, in fact, deliberately antagonizes her. Add to this the weird cousin love vibes between Charles and Constance, and Merricat is feeling downright threatened. As their feud escalates, it seems increasingly likely yet another Blackwood will end up dead.

a man and woman stand holding hands as a girl looks on from the doorway

Just as Merricat and Charles get into a dramatic physical altercation, a lit pipe sets the house ablaze. While many of the townsfolk gather to witness the blaze, Uncle Julian refuses to leave, and Charles desperately attempts to salvage valuables from the home.

How will the sisters, having endured so much, battle fire, disreputable relations, and an angry mob?

The Rating (with spoilers):

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’m going to be that amateur film critic and start out by saying the book is infinitely better. Shirley Jackson’s novel is genuinely creepy, suspenseful, and surprising. This film adaptation lacks the subtlety and ambience that makes the novel so successful. I have a difficult time believing that anyone who watches this will be shocked by the revelation that Merricat has secrets to hide about the poisonings because she acts like such a creep throughout the entire film.

Add to this the elements of the film that are unintentionally hilarious, and the tone feels quite uneven. I love Crispin Glover, but his turn as Uncle Julian is not convincing, and some of his lines–“We all deserve to die, don’t we?” especially stands out–brought on laughter when they should have been eerie. Julian mistaking Charles for the murdered Blackwood patriarch is also much funnier than it’s supposed to be.

The themes here are extremely Shirley Jackson, with no one being especially likeable. The Blackwoods are incredibly elitist, and there’s no love lost between the sisters and their parents. Charles has the power to be an ally to his family, but in the end is as manipulative as Merricat suspects him to be. I don’t even know where to begin with the townsfolk, whose cruelty and hypocrisy are unmatched and unwarranted–especially considering they know so little of the truth behind the Blackwood murders.

However, I remember Merricat being a more sympathetic character in the novel as we get more insight into how her mind works (though she is, as in the film, an unreliable narrator). This could be down to my having read the book in my teens or early 20s, and therefore possessing a considerably greater amount of patience for a moody teen. Who knows? It could be a perfect time to revisit the book and find out.

Would my swingin’ ’60s blog wife stay in this castle or sling angry taunts in its general direction? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Cleaning Lady, or: I Want to Kill You and Wear Your Skin Like a Dress

Another (Halloween) week, another horror film! This one brought to you by ridiculous standards for beauty and overly involved toxic friendships.

The Film:

The Cleaning Lady

The Premise:

A cleaning lady becomes obsessed with her employer, going way overboard with the additional free services no one asked for.

The Ramble:

Scrubbing floors, clearing bathtub drains, blending live rats into a puree…it’s all in a day’s work when you’re a cleaning lady. It’s clear from the get-go that Shelly is a deeply disturbed woman; as they say, watch out for the quiet ones.

Meanwhile, love addict Alice is troubled by her relationship with boyfriend Michael, who is married with a child of his own. Though Michael promises Alice a lovely vacation in Italy, he fails to come through on his promises, and sponsor Miranda encourages Alice to get serious about ending things (again).

A man sits in bed, a woman leaning against him and smiling.

After hiring maintenance worker Shelly under the table to do some cleaning around her apartment, Alice sees an opportunity for a beautiful new friendship to develop. During the day, Alice’s at-home spa and makeover business keeps her busy; in the evening, Alice begins to depend on Shelly to prevent her from contacting Michael.

Shelly is an extremely quiet woman who keeps to herself. Self-conscious about terrible burns on her face, she usually avoids all relationships. Perhaps it’s no surprise when the attention-starved Shelly immediately latches onto Alice with a certain degree of intensity.

A well-dressed blonde woman stands in a kitchen, talking to a dark-haired woman in grungy clothes and a baseball cap.

As it turns out, Shelly has a rather disturbing backstory that explains her twisted behavior. Her mother’s money making techniques were incredibly warped during young Shelly’s childhood–though Shelly certainly finds a way to exact her revenge.

Very quickly, Shelly becomes the friend always pushing Alice to be a better version of herself; in fact, Shelly believes Alice is mere steps away from perfection. Shelly pressures Alice to give up smoking and stay firm in her commitment not to get back together with Michael.

A woman reclines in bed, drinking a cup of tea, while a woman in grungy clothes sits next to her.

Meanwhile, Alice gives Shelly a makeover, even donating a brightly colored dress to wear. This is a big mistake, as Shelly realizes her potential to become more like Alice–including making a mold of her face after she falls into chloroform-induced sleep, thus giving new meaning to a girls’ night in with face masks.

When Alice inevitably reunites with Michael, a distraught Shelly snaps. Witnessing the night out is Michael’s wife Helen, who follows her husband’s car to a creepily remote location. Will Helen arrive in time to help her husband’s mistress–and will she even want to help once she discovers Alice’s identity?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Shelly is truly a chilling character whose reactions, though extreme, feel plausible. She embodies the Hollywood (and societal) obsession with perfection, especially in her quest to change and control Alice. In contrast to the external beauty that fascinates Shelly, some of the things she does are absolutely vile and bloodily grotesque. I do applaud the film’s ability to be genuinely disturbing without relying solely on gore to shock viewers (though there’s also plenty of that to go around).

Meanwhile, Alice is perhaps undeserving of the ordeals she experiences at Shelly’s hands, but she is certainly not a flawless character. Let’s not forget that the relationship between the two main characters is possible only because of Alice’s willingness to take advantage of Shelly’s situation. Alice wants a cleaning lady without having to do the work of finding or paying one on the books. In fact, the situation is risky for Shelly as she openly admits her supervisor wants her to perform maintenance–not do cleaning work. However, Alice treats Shelly a bit like her charity project to make herself feel like a good person.

Overall, the film has some interesting messages about privilege, unreasonable beauty standards, and the monsters created in our quest for perfection. However, I’m still puzzling over what just happened in this film, and would’ve liked the creepiness to unfold more slowly, like a…death’s-head moth emerging from a cocoon?

Would my (almost) perfect blog wife make a face mask of this one or blend it into a fine purée? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

St. Agatha, or: Hold Your Tongue

Horror-lujah (sorry not sorry), it’s Horror Month at last! We’re kicking off the best month on the Blog Collab with a classic yet underrepresented genre: nun horror. And, seriously, the nuns here are much more likely to join forces with Pinhead than feed the hungry or tend to the sick.

The Film:

St. Agatha

The Premise:

A young pregnant woman turns to a convent for help…only to discover the Sisters choose to do the Lord’s work using rather sinister methods.

The Ramble:

In 1957 Georgia, the aptly named Mary runs away to a secluded convent in the woods, of course in the creepiest, most dilapidated building imaginable.

A woman carrying a suitcase faces the exterior of a 2-story building on a foggy evening.

Pregnant with her boyfriend’s child and on the run from her abusive father, Mary has nowhere else to turn. Noticeably absent is her little brother William, with whom Mary planned to escape, as well as any cash whatsoever.

Mary receives a rather chilly welcome from Sister Paula, who cautions that the shelter provided by the convent comes with a price: Mary must leave behind all connections to her former life and take a vow of silence. Her only concern now should be the approval of Mother Superior, who is something of a piece of work.

A woman in a nun's habit looks down at a younger woman in a green dress.

Believing the world to be a place full of sinners, bars on the windows protect the Sisters from evil outside forces…or do they prevent all who live in the convent from making an escape? According to Mother Superior, pain brings you closer to God, a message that does little to soothe Mary as she hears the sounds of crying and screaming from behind locked doors.

The only friend Mary can find is her roommate Catherine, who is also pregnant. Her other roomies live in perpetual terror of the Sisters and all have plenty of horror stories about their experiences at the convent.

Meanwhile, the Sisters seem more preoccupied with earthly concerns than sticking to that vow of silence as Mother Superior sits around counting her money and preparing for a dinner with their mysterious benefactors. When Mary learns that all of the Sisters are or have at some point been pregnant, she grows even more suspicious. Add to this Mother Superior’s constant gaslighting and warning that Mary is too irresponsible to raise her own child, and this is more or less the final straw.

Nuns in habits surround a young woman who is struggling to emerge from an open coffin.

Frightened for her own well-being and the future of her child, Mary decides to make a break for it. However, when things don’t go as planned, Mary winds up in the secret underground torture basement in the convent (what–you’ve never heard of a convent with a secret torture room?). Mother Superior will never release Mary until she accepts her old life is over…and in her new life, she is now Agatha.

Who will win the battle of wills between Mary and Mother Superior?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

For a film in which almost all of the major characters have taken a vow of silence, there is a LOT of dialogue here. And while some of it is effective, a lot adds very little value to the film.

Let’s start with the unnecessarily tragic backstory of Mary, (SPOILER) involving her father’s abuse, brother’s death, and descent into poverty with her boyfriend. I’m not sure all of these details tie in well to the story, and are merely tacked on to elicit sympathy for Mary–and to help us understand why she may be so desperate that she’d willingly stay at the convent from hell.

I do certainly feel for Mary, but the creepiness of the convent is immediately apparent, and it makes no sense the number of horrific things she puts up with before thinking that maybe–just maybe–she should get the eff out.

However, the ambience is quite well done: the suspense created because of the dilapidated building in the secluded, foggy woods comes through well. And there are truly horrendous things going on inside, most of which relate to an oral fixation. The psychological terror is effective as well, with the nuns, who are demonic yet do not have any demonic special powers, very easily manipulating their victims through emotional abuse.

I will give this film credit for its ambition as well; if I interpret it as intended, the story is a major critique of the church’s abuses historically and into the present. The hierarchical structure of the church has allowed for the systemic physical, sexual, and psychological abuse of pregnant women, young children, and indigenous people in particular. Though this is a horror film, some of the tactics employed by the Sisters have been used to abuse and manipulate victims, as well as to silence them. While they claim to do the Lord’s work, the Sisters’ motives are no different from a for-profit corporation: money and power.

But, in the end, the story isn’t as well thought-out as it could have been, and its message doesn’t come across in a way that’s as clever as it thinks it is.

Would my saintly blog wife devote herself to this one or slip a special ingredient into its frosty refreshments? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Most Assassinated Woman in the World, or: Frenchy McFrenchface

This week’s film brings Horror Month to a close (say it isn’t so)!  In true French spirit, this film does horror with style (and is based on a true story!).

The Film:

The Most Assassinated Woman in the World

The Premise:

Paula Maxa, famous for dying onstage in every performance, may be the target of a real-life killer.

The Ramble:

Welcome to 1930s Paris, a world full of cigarettes, drama, religious zealots, and…murder?  The (in)famous Paula Maxa has the distinction of being murdered every night at the Grand Guignol Theatre, much to the dismay of a die-hard group of protestors.  Believing her violent act will yield acts of real violence, the protestors only seem to create more intrigue around the scandalous show.

You have to give credit to the theater crew for keeping things fresh–Paula’s deaths are always gruesomely staged with a disturbing amount of attention to detail.  Whether being stabbed, choked, or beheaded, the stunts always look real.  Possibly because the blood and body parts involved aren’t props but harvested from human victims…?

A woman looks in horror at another woman who has just lost an eye, the wound bleeding profusely.

On this particular evening, there are several audience members of note watching the show.  First is an older man with his young lover in a private box.  The man in question seems much more interested in Paula’s bloody death than anything his lover has to offer.  That can’t be good.

Another person of importance is a journalist, Jean, writing a story about the Grand Guignol as a den of depravity.  After the show the next night, Jean meets Paula at a bar straight out of a film noir.  He’s immediately intrigued and determined to learn more about the glamorous, aloof star.

Meanwhile, Paula is having flashbacks to her younger days, and they aren’t particularly happy memories.  These seem to be influenced in part by the awful director who is determined to drive Paula insane for some reason?  Mostly because he’s a douche?

A woman looks at herself in the mirror of a dressing room, a picture of a man and woman on the beach hanging on a wall behind her.

As Paula opens up to Jean, she reveals the tragic secret in her past she’s held onto for so many years.  She also hints that she’s ready to leave the theatre and will do so with an appropriate amount of dramatic flair.

A man and woman lie at opposite ends of a bed, heads next to each other.

Unfortunately, someone else seems ready for Paula to exit, stage left, in real life.  The choice to re-create Paula’s past onstage seems rather ominous.  Like Paula’s past, will this story end in tragedy?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

More film noir than horror, this film has a wonderful aura of mystery.  The gory effects paired with the melodramatic onstage deaths are impossible to resist.  As an added bonus, the film fits in nicely with the blog collab’s unoffical subtheme:  Women Who Look Good Smoking.

However, there are a lot of elements that never feel fully fleshed out.  I expected more to happen with the religious zealots, and almost all of the character motivations are confusing.  This is the kind of film where I anticipate a clever twist, but the end is just…a very French ending indeed.  (Not in a dirty way.)

Would my blog wife resurrect this act for a grand finale or let it die IRL?  Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Ouija: Origin of Evil, or: Spirit of the ’60s

I’m so happy it’s Horror Month on the blog.  Not so happy that this week’s film features incredibly creepy children, but you can’t win ’em all.  At least we’ve got some fab ’60s style to go along with it.

The Film:

Ouija: Origin of Evil

The Premise:

Evil originates.  Through a Ouija board.  In the 1960s.

The Ramble:

Alice is a 1960s mom trying to make ends meet–so what if that involves tricking people into believing their deceased relatives are communicating to them from beyond the grave?  As far as I’m concerned, Alice earns every penny as she’s put some serious creativity and intense detail into the whole endeavor.

Since the death of her husband, Alice is raising moody and extremely skeptical Lina, along with the younger Doris, who desperately wants to reconnect with her father.

One evening, Lina and her rebellious friends bust open the liquor cabinet and use a Ouija board to talk to the spirits of the dead…spooky!  Despite Lina’s eye rolling, the group is genuinely freaked out until they are interrupted by the arrival of parentals.  After a stern talking to, Alice concedes that Ouija is all the rage and decides to add it to her skill set.

Four teens sit on the floor in the dark, using their fingers to guide a Ouija board.

Meanwhile, Lina has agreed to attend the Homecoming dance with her friend Mikey.  When Mikey comes over to walk Lina to school, Alice gives him a stern talking-to and makes sure he understands how short his lifeline will be if he hurts Lina in any way.

At school, Doris is tormented by a couple of nasty little boys.  The head of their school, Father Tom, manages to earn some major points with Alice when he intervenes and cheers up Doris.  Though there seems to be something between Alice and Father Tom, it’s too bad since he’s married to the church and such.

As she practices with the Ouija board, Alice makes the rookie mistake of using the board alone and doesn’t say goodbye to the spirit.  Things get eerie when Doris begins responding to Alice’s questions from the 2nd floor of the house…creepy!  Even worse, Doris completes homework in beautiful cursive with the help of her “friend.”

A woman in a floral dress stands in a residential neighborhood, her teenage and young daughter behind her.

Though skeptical at first, Alice begins to believe Doris is able to speak to the dead when she claims her father is communicating with her, providing details Doris couldn’t possibly know on her own.  After finding a hidden stash of money and saving the house from foreclosure, Doris and her new talent prove very lucrative indeed.

However, it should surprise no one when Doris gets even more fucking creepy, using her mind to turn a bully’s mean prank against him, describing in detail to Mikey what it’s like to die by choking to death, and sewing a doll’s mouth shut to stop the voices.  Give that child over to the state, lady.

A young girl wearing a school uniform stares menacingly ahead.

After Lina brings Father Tom’s attention to letters Doris has mysteriously written in fluent Polish, the priest visits the house in the guise of connecting to his deceased wife.  What this Ouija session reveals is the frightening and rather confusing truth about who is really reaching out from the other side.

How many will still be on the side of the living by the time the credits roll?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

This isn’t a bad film, but doesn’t strike me as particularly memorable.  Initially quite watchable, the amount of time spent on setting the scene becomes tedious after a while.  Even though we spend a lot of time with our main 3 characters, I still didn’t really care about what happened to any of them.

I do love a period drama, though, and the ’60s details are absolutely gorgeous.  Doris is ridiculously creepy, but it’s not enough to hold the film together.

Would my blog wife’s spirit possess this one or search for a more worthy host elsewhere?  Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Patchwork, or: Women Gotta Stick Together

TGIO–Thank God It’s October,  aka the best month on the blog, and arguably the best month period.   Nothing but horror to see here.  This week brings us a modern horror-comedy inspired by Frankenstein, featuring what may be the most jarring sight of all:  a non-ginger Fred Weasley.

The Film:

Patchwork

The Premise:

Three women seek revenge after being transformed into a grotesque creature at the hands of a modern-day Frankenstein.

The Ramble:

Los Angeles:  City of Dreams.  Also city of disreputable plastic surgeons with gruesome passion projects.

Successful but aloof Jennifer spends her birthday alone at a bar only to wake up the next day as the victim of a modern-day Frankenstein experiment.  Along with bubbly sorority girl Ellie and socially awkward Madeleine, parts of Jennifer’s face and body have been used to make one perfect woman (for convenience/laziness purposes, referred to as JEM from this point on).  Unfortunately, their new body is highly scarred and traps their 3 distinct minds together.

A woman stares in horror at her reflection, which shows her face is composed of 3 different faces stitched together roughly.

In spite of disagreement about what happened and exactly whose body this is, JEM work together to escape (hampered by George from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend).  As they regroup at Jennifer’s apartment, JEM decide first they will unravel the truth about what happened, then work to restore each mind to her separate body.

All 3 stories seem to share the bar where Jennifer spent a miserable birthday alone, Vic’s.  Could Jennifer’s medical student friend be the surgeon gone psychotic?

A person with a bandaged face and trench coat pushes a man up against the wall of an apartment.

Next is a deep dive into Ellie’s memories.  The night of her abduction, Ellie was trying desperately to impress a pompous artist who clearly doesn’t make art as such an act would be much too capitalist.  Could Banksy 2.0 have been the culprit?

As for Madeleine, she was drinking alone at Vic’s until a D-list celebrity decided to join her.  Though quiet and awkward, Madeleine asks Mr. I-Have-a-Drink-Named-After-Me back to her place.  Could this self-important pseudo-celeb have a dark hobby?  (Spoiler:  no.  Madeleine actually has a rather impressive collection of body parts in her fridge…)

I should note that as JEM narrow down their list of suspects, they are taking the process of elimination to an extreme and killing off the dudes they encounter.  Few tears are shed as these are men who have been emotionally manipulative, creepy AF, or just so goddamn annoying.

A woman with a scarred face sits in the backseat of a car while a man obliviously texts in the driver's seat.

We also get the love story no one asked for when Madeleine and Ellie decide Fred Weasley (or whatever the fuck his character’s name is in this film) is their type–or at least is there and available.  This plot point unintentionally brings up an interesting philosophical discussion about consent–if one body houses more than one consciousness, how many have to agree for it to be consent?  Yet another good reason to never try to Frankenstein people.

Philosophical questions aside, who is responsible for JEM’s transformation and how will they rain bloody vengeance down upon his head?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Even though the second half of this film is an absolute mess, I just can’t resist the first part.  The premise of the film is so fun:  mix one of my favorite literary classics with gory horror, social commentary, and ladies working together to get shit done.  Though the characterization of the 3 women isn’t always the most fleshed out, the scenes where they bond and begin to conspire are delightful.  I unexpectedly liked Ellie a lot; even though she is the sorority girl stereotype, Ellie is no mean girl and shows vulnerability that really resonates for me.

Unfortunately, the film tries unsuccessfully to make a statement amidst a completely incoherent plot.  It’s fruitless to expect to achieve the so-called perfect body, women gotta stick together, revenge is actually quite fulfilling–what the actual fuck is the message here???  Perhaps most unforgivably of all, it dangles the satisfying idea of a female serial killer targeting egomaniacs only to rip this away from us with a, er, clever twist.

I also really hate that Madeleine’s history of mental illness is brought up as something of an explanation for her violent behavior and (spoiler/not really a spoiler) obsession with having the perfect body.  Equating mental health with violence is problematic AF.  Furthermore, women feeling like shit about their bodies can be related to and exacerbated by mental illness–but it’s also very much an issue of social conditioning and, IDK, LIVING IN THIS WORLD.

And, of course, the tacked-on romance with a mediocre non-ginger Weasley just isn’t wanted or needed.  I don’t want to see women hook up with boring heteronormative white dudes; I want to see them stab the fuck out of people (preferably men).

I have to say, however, the first part of the film did bring me a lot of joy.

Did my blog wife get attached to this one or would she saw off her own arm to get away from it?  Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Veronica, or: Smells Like Teen Spirits

As an absolute garbage month this year, September can go die in a dumpster fire as far as I’m concerned.  Praise be to all that is unholy it’s once again the most wonderful time of the year:  the month of October, Halloween, and…uh, Mean Girls Day?  You know what that means for the blog:  horror, horror, horror.  Let’s dive in, shall we?

The Film:

Veronica (2017)

The Premise:

After a Ouija board session gone wrong, 15-year-old Veronica must keep her younger siblings safe and send the demon she accidentally summoned back where it came from.

The Ramble:

The following events are based on a real police report filed in 1991 Madrid, as our film cautions us right out of the gate.  Oooooooooh, spooky!

Though Veronica is just 15 and still in braces, she is the main caretaker for her 3 younger siblings.  Since Veronica’s father died, her mother works long night shifts at a bar, leaving Veronica to get her siblings up and ready for school.  Some days go better than others, depending on Veronica’s alarm clock and the level of her siblings’ brattiness.

The Catholic school Veronica and her siblings attend is all abuzz about the upcoming solar eclipse.  Ominously, Veronica and her friends plan to contact her father using a Ouija board while the rest of the school views the eclipse.  And of course they have to call upon spirits in the creepiest space ever that for some reason is easily accessible to pretty much anyone who can climb down a few metal rungs and is not considered a safety hazard???

I’ve got to say, this made me so nostalgic for the days of actually using giant hulking reference books–for example, The Great Encyclopedia of the Occult consulted in the film.

three teenage girls surrounded by candles hold their fingers to a Ouija board

However, nothing else about the teens’ Ouija experience is as fun as occult reference materials when, instead of reaching the spirit of Veronica’s father, they summon a malevolent demon.  As the board breaks, book catches fire, and the lights flicker off, Veronica seems to be possessed.  When she lies on the floor whispering to herself, then suddenly sits up and screams, all bets are off.  Veronica’s friends are well and truly freaked the fuck out.

At home, things don’t get much better.  Veronica seems to have episodes of being possessed, and both sees and hears a presence in their apartment at different times.  The lights flicker, doors slam open and shut, the TV turns on by itself.  When Veronica gives her brother a bath, the faucet mysteriously turns on with scalding water, giving him burns on his body.

The next day at school, Veronica has a conversation with an elderly blind nun known as Sister Death, who also happens to be a chain smoker.  The Sister warns her there is a presence with her that she must send back from whence it came.  Veronica is also tasked with keeping her siblings safe from the demon she inadvertently summoned.

a blind nun smokes a cigarette in a dark basement

Veronica gets serious about using pagan symbols to protect her siblings and insists all 4 camp out together in the living room that night.  Riled up about demons in the house, the children are terrified when their mother comes home and demands to know what is going on.  Of course Veronica gets a stern lecture because parents just don’t understand.

Determined to be rid of the demon, Veronica tries to enlist the help of her friends in summoning it and sending it away.  Still traumatized by their Ouija session gone wrong, Veronica’s friends refuse to go near the board ever again.

a teenage girl stands with her younger siblings, holding up a cross

Still intending to stick with her plan, Veronica decides she will send the demon back with the help of her younger siblings.  And of course things go horribly, horribly wrong from there, resulting in the infamous real life police report.

What terrors in the report could have traumatized the lead detective on the case and spawned rumors that the house is haunted?  You’ll have to watch the film to find out!  Or I guess you could Google it.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

The premise here is decent and not your formulaic teens who shouldn’t have fucked with a Ouija board horror.  Veronica has depth and is quite sympathetic as a protagonist who wants to connect with her father, later transformed into fierce older sister and protector of her siblings.

However, this just isn’t particularly scary.  There seems to be a checklist of cliche signs of a  demonic possession this film is determined to cross off.  Honestly, the creepiest scene for me was one where Veronica dreams her siblings are attacking and eating her…but we’ve all been there, right?

I absolutely loved Sister Death and her doom and gloom warnings–even if they are too little too late.  If we get a prequel about her, I will be on that so fast.

Would my blog wife summon this one again or send it back ASAP?  Read her review here to find out!